Go to any hi-fi show and you'll see room after room filled with the latest and greatest-sounding speakers, but chances are you won't come away from the experience captivated by brilliant designs. I sometimes wonder if the audio industry will ever get its act together and make speakers you don't have to be an audiophile to love.
Extreme cars, like Ferraris and Lamborghinis, arouse strong, positive reactions from people who would never buy or even drive them, but high-end audio speakers rarely achieve that sort of admiration. My best guess as to why that's so is that truly beautiful audiophile speakers are rare. Or to put it another way, do you have to be an audiophile to think speakers are beautiful? Granted, if you're already an audiophile you might be predisposed to view large speakers in a positive light and see their form as part of their function. For nonaudiophiles, size is definitely a factor, in the opposite direction: the smaller a speaker is, the easier it is to fit into the average person's living space.
Really tiny speakers like the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 visually "disappear," but that's not what I'm talking about. Tiny boxes aren't beautiful, they're merely small. I'm thinking more about aesthetics, an Apple level of industrial design that looks so good you covet its beauty.
Manufacturers that make speakers with snazzy paint jobs or luxurious wood veneers can get some acceptance outside the audiophile market, but I'm hoping for something more adventurous in design, like the new Dali Fazon F5 ($4,495 a pair) I saw a few months ago. Photographs don't do justice to its elegant shape. Theis another fine example of thinking outside the box, and since it's just 28 inches high it might be easier to integrate into a room's decor than most high-end speakers.
Ask serious audiophiles which brand consistently makes the most beautiful speakers, and chances are they'll cite Sonus Faber. The Italian company's speakers form and proportions strike me as elegant. Its Amati Futura's sound is pretty special too.
Flat-panel speakers from companies like Magnepan and MartinLogan are the most graceful examples of form-follows-function design, but again, these speakers tend to be tall, but very, very thin--the speakers ($600 a pair) I reviewed a few months ago are only 1.25 inches thick! They are unadorned, cloth-covered, totally flat panels, and I think they're gorgeous.
Tell us in the Comments section about the most beautiful speakers you've ever seen.